The Family Bed

Posted by: , February 1, 2015 in 1:59 pm


family bedParenthood, like politics, is a completely partisan endeavor. George Lakoff, the Linguistics Professor who wrote “Moral Politics,” says that Republicans are like paternalistic, tough-love, corporal punishment-doling dads who think their kids should act responsibly and pull themselves up by their own boot straps, and never ever ask anyone for a hand-out, and that Democrats on the other hand are like compassionate, gentle, earth-mothering moms who would never spank their offspring, and in fact believe their kids should live at home until they’re 30, or seeing as how 40 is the new 30 – until they’re 40, and that they should have all their meals cooked for them, their laundry done for them, their every need met and whim nurtured.

So as parents, you’re either a Republican or a Democrat.

To further sub-divide us, you’re either a “Ferberizer” or “Searser.” Dr. Richard Ferber, the director of Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Children’s Hospital in Boston is famous for the “Let Them Cry It Out” method of “Sleep Training.”

This is the method that most of our parents used, and that most Americans have used for generations, and sadly (to my view) still use.

It involves simply putting your infant child in his or her crib in a room down the hall at a designated time every evening, closing the door – and then leaving him or her in there – pretty much no matter what – so that they will learn to “self soothe,” at first by crying themselves to sleep. This, in my opinion, is the Republican way of trying to get your kids to sleep through the night. It emphasizes the primacy of the parents’ lives over that of their children. I also believe it’s a vestigial piece of left over philosophy from previous generations who believed that “Children Should Be Seen But Not Heard.”

Like Dr. Ferber, Dr. William Sears was trained at Harvard’s Children’s Hospital in Boston, he is a pediatrician, a father of eight children (which I find totally unnecessary), and he is most famous for the philosophy behind “Attachment Parenting.” The school of “Attachment Parenting” is big on breast feeding and is pretty much the antithesis of “Ferberization.” They are also responsible for the promotion of the “Family Bed.”

The “Family Bed” being that hippie-ish, giant, futon-like mass covered with pillows where everyone: Mom, Dad, infants, toddlers, older siblings, the family dog and cat, and possibly Mom or Dad’s out of work younger brother or the nanny goes to not get a good night’s sleep. In this country, in many peoples’ minds it’s a slightly skeevy place that fosters molestation.

Between the two of them, Ferber and Sears, they have written dozens of books on the care and feeding of infants and small children. When I was an infant there was pretty much only one book on the subject: “Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care.”

Breast-feeding was actually controversial back in those days – Dr. Spock thought that breast milk wasn’t nutritious enough – and it was also socially unacceptable. Despite this my mom breast-fed me. While she smoked. Dr. Spock didn’t say anything about not smoking while breast-feeding, and crazily enough, he also didn’t say anything about not smoking while being pregnant.

I don’t really know if my mom smoked while she nursed me, but she was a multi-tasker, and she did a lot of things while smoking, so it’s a fair assumption that she smoked while I nursed. I think she nursed me for about a month, then switched me over to formula. How I handled the nicotine withdrawal I don’t remember.

When I my wife and I started dating, she was a single parent and worked full time.

Because they didn’t see each other all day during the week, sleeping in the same bed became a crucial part of creating and sustaining the mother and child bond.

So when we started dating, I slept out in the living room, on the sofa. I slept on that sofa for months.

After we moved in together, all three of us slept in the same bed, with our daughter Clara in the middle.

After our twin sons, Gus and Charlie were born, we got a bigger bed. Actually we got two beds. One was a California King, and the other was an Extra Long Twin. We jammed them together and created our version of the Family Bed. It took up approximately three-quarters of the floor space in our bedroom.

I slept on one side of the California King, Gus slept next to me, Mary slept next to him, Charlie slept in the crack between the two beds, and Clara slept in the Extra Long Twin.

We lived in Topanga Canyon where lots of people raise their children in Family Beds – perhaps out of fear of coyotes or mountain lions. But in the city, my co-workers and friends would often ask me what it was like, this “sleeping with my wife and kids in the same bed business.”

They wondered whether or not I was afraid of smothering or squishing them.

They also wondered at what age did the Family Bed end. Didn’t children who were reared in a Family Bed become creepily attached to their parents? And what about when they became teenagers? What if they still wanted to sleep with you then? And what about you and your wife’s sex life? Did you guys even have one?

When friends drove all the way out to our house they would often ask to “see” our Family Bed. They wanted to know what on earth it looked like. Even though the Family Bed lived in our “bed room,” some friends marveled at how much floor space we had devoted to the actual practice of “sleeping.”

Most of our friends from the city could not get their heads wrapped around the idea of parents sleeping with their children. Even though it’s the norm in more cultures than it isn’t, in North America, it is seen as far too communal, after all, didn’t the Mansons sleep in a Family Bed?

Meanwhile, many of those same friends were having babies and putting them in cribs in bed rooms down the hall far from their own bedrooms, and enduring long nights of letting their babies “Cry It Out.” The more resolve you show, the stronger your babies will become when they grow older.

One friend of mine who was “Ferberizing” his son told me that it was working beautifully – until his son got old enough to figure out how to climb out of his crib. My friend then put a kind of “lid” on the top of the crib with a latch on it, and when he showed it to me, I thought, “What’s the difference between this crib and a cage…?”

Now, to be fair, if I had fallen in love with a woman who had Ferberized her daughter, I would have probably been okay with Ferberizing our sons.

And to be honest, when my friends from work asked me a lot of questions about our Family Bed, I would start to wonder if maybe some day one of my kids might go into therapy because of it, or even worse, write a book or a one-person show about it.

In the end, I got totally behind it when my wife put it to me like this: “Bears don’t make their cubs sleep in caves down the hill from their caves.” And that’s so true. If a Mother Bear let her offspring “Cry It Out” surely they would be eaten by wolves or mountain lions.

And even though it’s true that we aren’t bears, we are mammals – we nurse our young and we should, I think, keep them close, especially in those first few years, because I believe that keeping them close will make them stronger, more independent, and less afraid of the world.

Some of you Ferberizers out there might disagree. And if you want to hold onto the primacy of your adulthood and act like a Republican – well, it’s a free country. But I say, Surrender to the Family Bed. It’s a hell of a lot cozier.

My daughter is 11 now, my sons are almost 9, and all three of them have moved into their own bedrooms. Now, most nights, it’s just me, my wife, Keith Olberman – and one of our three cats. I have to say, I like having the extra leg room. But on some nights, it feels like there’s way too much room in there.

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